Republican President Donald Trump's administration was expected to revoke landmark guidelines issued to public schools in defense of transgender student rights, according to a draft document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The draft reverses former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature initiative on transgender rights, which instructed public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms matching their chosen gender identity. (Read the draft here: http://tmsnrt.rs/2kMAGAS)
"I would expect further guidance to come out on that today," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing on Wednesday.
The draft document could be subject to change before it is sent to schools across the country. Its stated purpose is to withdraw the guidance of May 13, 2016, while Trump's Justice and Education departments continue to study the legal issues involved.
Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and the socially progressive, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Trump's Nov. 8 election.
Its issuance was delayed by a disagreement between two members of Trump's Cabinet, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushing for a repeal of the Obama guidance and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resisting, according to advocacy groups that have been in contact with administration officials.
Spicer, however, denied any division, saying, DeVos was in agreement "100 percent."
Spicer said the White House was pressed to act because of a pending Supreme Court case that is due to be argued in March, G.G. versus Gloucester County School Board.
That case pits a Virginia transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, against officials who want to deny him use of the boys' room at his high school.
Although the Justice Department is not a party in the case, it typically would want to make its views heard. In addition to rescinding Obama's guidance, the draft document withdraws an Education Department letter in support of Grimm.
Obama's Education Department undertook the guidance in response to queries from school districts around the country about how to accommodate transgender students in gender-segregated bathrooms.
The Obama Justice and Education departments then issued the guidance last May, threatening to withhold federal funding if schools forced transgender students to use bathrooms against their will.
Thirteen states led by Texas sued to stop the Obama guidelines, calling them federal meddling in what should be a state matter, and a U.S. district judge in Texas temporarily halted their full implementation.
That lawsuit would be rendered moot by the new policy, which also allows public schools to set their own rules without fear of losing federal funds or a lawsuit from the Justice Department.
Conservatives have also raised fears about men or boys claiming to be transgender in order to spy or prey on women or girls in public restrooms.
But experts say transgender students are the ones more likely to be harassed or bullied, and that they perform better in schools where they are supported in their gender identity.
"It's the trans kids who grow up in non-supportive environments in which we see the high levels of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and poor school performance," said Laura Jacobs, a New York psychotherapist who specializes in transgender youth and adolescents.
Transgender legal advocates have criticized the "states' rights" argument, saying federal law and civil rights are matters for the federal government to enforce, not the states.
"Since when does the United States make your civil rights subject to your zip code?" said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a group advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
The federal law in question, known as Title IX, bans sex discrimination in education. But it remains unsettled whether Title IX protections extend to a person's gender identity. The U.S. Supreme Court could settle the issue in the case due to be argued in March.
"Title IX never talked about this," Spicer said. "It was enacted in 1972. There was no discussion of this back then and to assume certain elements of the law were thought of back then with respect to this would be completely preposterous."
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York and Jeff Mason and Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)